(Posted - 04 Dec 2011)
World champion multisport athlete, New Zealander Richard Ussher, stamped his dominance on the Anaconda Adventure Racing National Series finale, held in Lorne, Victoria, today with a title-winning performance in conditions that tested most of the record breaking entrant list of more than 1200.
Ussher joined the biggest field ever to assemble for an Anaconda Adventure Race at Lorne, lining up in icy early morning conditions against strong competition on paper: countryman Braden Currie marked as a very real threat along with 2010 series champ, Geelong’s Grant Suckling, and WA’s Sean O’Neill both notable as potential round winners.
On the line was the National Series Title with only four points separating first and fourth on the overall leaderboard and ten points up for grabs for crossing the line at the pointy end.
It became a story almost set in stone early on with Ussher comfortably taking control of the race from the paddle onwards. First time series competitor Braden Currie valiantly held onto his countryman’s heels, pushing the champion hard until the pair hit the 18km mountain bike leg where the Anaconda newcomer just couldn’t maintain Ussher’s blistering pace riding up hills that mortals tend to puff just walking up.
Ussher’s winning sub-four hour time confirmed what most had already assumed as history book fact – that he’d be 2011 Series Champion. However the minor placings were still hotly contested given the Series standings remained in the balance, as did prize money. But the finish came too quickly for O’Neill who suffered an off fresh out of the bike transition, allowing Currie to hold on to second place. The result gave Currie, who missed the first round in Forster but exploded from nowhere to win at the Gold Coast, enough points to overtake 2010 champion, Grant Suckling, and cement his status as a Top Flight athlete for 2012 having snatched second overall this year.
O’Neill, who has steadily become stronger as the series has progressed, crossed not far behind Currie. Grant Suckling appeared as the next athlete to round the corner off the final beach run, sneaking home in fourth ahead of Jarad Kohlar.
For the swim crowd lining up at Lorne Pier in the early hours, it was an almost Antarctic slap in the face to get the spirits going as the wind chopped up from the south, bringing with it fears for the paddle leg, which race organisers had already confirmed altered due to inclement conditions.
Their concerns were well founded, the paddle causing havoc for less experienced paddlers, upending one after another, many losing their boats all together to catch a ride back on the water safety jetski. Highlighting the difficult paddling conditions, Ussher himself was a victim if for a second, at one stage an errant wave overthrowing him as he came in to the first turnaround point.
Even so, Ussher revelled in the bluster. “It should have been four laps!" he exclaimed at the finish. “I know it would have been tough for many out there, but don’t let it discourage you, let it inspire you," he said of conditions that relegated many to a DNF result and a long walk back along the beach.
Race Organisers Rapid Ascent noted at presentations that given the challenging conditions faced by competitors, they made the decision to enact certain safety measures that will have affected some paddle leg times.
“We understand that by adjusting the paddle leg mid race there will be varying paddle times that will actually reflect different distances paddled, but we hold competitor safety as the most important and overriding factor and hope that competitors viewing their paddle leg times will take this into account and understand the variations given the circumstances," said General Manager Sam Maffett.
As a result of the course alterations, Rapid Ascent confirmed that no award will be made for the fastest paddle leg time.
Ussher’s performance was all the more amazing for the fact that he finished the 50km off road course only minutes behind the team category winners, Triathlon and Multisport Magazine, a crew jam packed with pro-level racing talent.
Elite triathlete Sam Hume exited his swim leg in third overall, passing the baton to skilled kayaker Ivor Morgan, who paddled like it wasn’t rough as hell to slide onto the beach in the top five.
Runner Campbell Maffett then had a blinder, putting the team four minutes in front out of the bike transition. Luke Haines, winner of this year’s Marysville to Melbourne Multisport Challenge, maintained the lead, his only threat being a possible eclipse by solo man Richard Ussher (who eventually finished only 3 minutes behind the team). Second team home overall was a mixed category entrant, Team Peak Adventure.
Newly crowned Adventure Racing World Champion, Frenchwoman Myriam Guillot, took out the individual female win comfortably, having recovered from her World Series expedition race win in Tasmania in November enough to survive her confessed weaker legs – the swim and the paddle – to fend off the locals by more than ten minutes.
“Ah, the bike and the run, no problem," said Myriam, “But the paddle and the swim, I really struggled," said Myriam, noting her adventure races never include an ocean swim.
Following review of mid-race alterations of the paddle course and the flow-on time corrections, the minor placings result had six-time Pier to Pub winner, Naantali Marshall, in second. She smashed the swim coming out of the water in 14th overall and was only a minute and a half behind her husband, Sam Hume.
In equal third were seasoned Anaconda athlete, Peri Grey, and debutante Jacqui Watts who, having transferred over from the dark side (triathlon), punched out a podium placing in her first Anaconda outing.
The champagne flowed come day's end for adventure racing queen Deanna Blegg who was confirmed as the deserved National Series Champion for 2011. She was missing from the field at Lorne, but with two wins (Gold Coast and Forster) and a second (Augusta) under her belt in earlier rounds.
And what of those Bondi Rescue Boys, who were looking like team title threats early on in the race?
“Those hills on the bike leg are killer!" said Aaron 'Ace' Buchan, who wasn’t feeling so ace when he collided with a concrete wall at one point. “And the run was awesome," said Andrew 'Reidy' Reid, “But how the hell those guys up front go so fast over those rocks (on the coastal section of the trail run) and not break their legs, I don’t understand!" The crew came a respectable 13th team overall.
FULL RESULTS: www.anacondaadventurerace.com
1. Richard Ussher (NZ) 3:52:55
2. Braden Currie (NZ) 3:55:22
3. Sean O’Neill (WA) 3:57:19
1. Myriam Guillot (FR) 4:42:15
2. Peri Grey (Vic) 4:54:07
3. Naantali Marshall (Vic)4:54:14
1. Triathlon Multisport Mag